Home » Enthusiasts In Texas Are Stuck After DMV Offices Refuse To Title Legally Imported Kei Trucks

Enthusiasts In Texas Are Stuck After DMV Offices Refuse To Title Legally Imported Kei Trucks

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Importing a vehicle from Japan is a car buying thrill unlike anything else. However, for the past few years, an increasing number of states have decided that cars that are old enough to be legal to import on the federal level are not eligible to be registered on the state level. Texas joined a growing list of states refusing to register Japanese Kei trucks, leaving owners stuck without answers. Some Texans are already fighting back, and they’re doing so through a method some have found to be controversial, let’s check it out.

One of the most infamous pieces of car-related legislation in America is the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988, known by enthusiasts as the “25 Year Rule.” Officially, the law was enacted to protect Americans from potentially unsafe vehicles that didn’t comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or had been sloppily converted to meet said standards. Before this law, many individuals and companies, even franchised dealerships, imported cars from other countries to sell for a lower price than their U.S. market counterparts.

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Vidframe Min Bottom

When the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988 became law, Americans suddenly had to wait 25 years to import the vehicles of their choice or go through the expensive process of converting a non-compliant car into a legal one. The Environmental Protection Agency has its own rule, blocking imports out of the country until they’re at least 21 years old. Once an imported vehicle becomes 25 years old, the federal government no longer cares that the imported vehicle was never built to American safety or emissions standards.

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Texas Kei Truck Advocates

Most enthusiasts have accepted this reality and many can’t wait for the day when their dream car reaches that magical age of 25. However, an increasing number of states are putting the future of importation into question. Will your state be accepting of the car you want when it comes of age? For the residents of Maine, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, and now Texas, that answer is becoming unclear. Most of these states are targeting Japan’s smallest class of cars, Kei-jidōsha, and specifically Kei trucks. However, some of these states are canceling the registrations of any Kei vehicle and one of them will seemingly cancel the registration of any imported vehicle.

Messing With Texas

I spoke with David from the Texas Kei Truck Advocates, a group attempting to work with the state government of Texas to secure the future of imported vehicles in the state.

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Denial Letter 2
Texas Kei Truck Advocates

David and I spoke on a call where he revealed that the situation in Texas is a bit weird. Some Kei truck owners haven’t experienced any issues registering their vehicles while others have been getting turned away from the DMV. It would appear that some counties are better than others. This does mean that Texas Kei truck owners are currently in a better position than Kei truck owners in, say, Maine, but it’s still not a great place to be. If you don’t know if your Kei truck will be able to be registered, you may think twice about putting down your hard-earned cash on one.

Which is right? Are Kei trucks legal in Texas? According to the January 2024 edition of the Texas Vehicle Title Manual, the answer is no:

Mini-trucks
Vast numbers of used Japanese mini-trucks and vans (also known as Kei-class vehicles) are being imported into the US primarily as off-road vehicles. Some states allow mini-trucks to operate on roadways as low or slow speed vehicles. Mini-trucks are not eligible for title or registration due the vehicle’s lack of compliance with US environmental and safety standards.

In case you weren’t convinced, the Texas Vehicle Title Manual brings up Kei trucks again:

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TXDMV

Now here’s where things get weird. David tells me that the Kei truck ban is a policy within the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.

I’ve done some digging and found that Texas Kei truck owners have been dealing with registration issues in their state since at least 2007. However, many of these people owned newer mini trucks that were younger than 25 years old and imported as off-road vehicles. Owners banded together in an effort to change Texas’ policies, but the bill, HB4495, ended up going nowhere. For a while, those with Kei trucks older than 25 years were reporting success, then 2021 came around and it would appear that Texas also took a page from the AAMVA.

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Denial Letter 1
Texas Kei Truck Advocates

As of current, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles claims that Kei trucks cannot be titled because they do not meet the state’s definition of a motor vehicle. Alright, let’s check the laws. When one Kei truck owner pushed back, the state directed them to Texas Transportation Code Title 7. Vehicles And Traffic, Subtitle A. Certificates Of Title And Registration Of Vehicles. We’ll be digging into Chapter 501, the Certificate Of Title Act.

According to Section 501.002 (17), a “motor vehicle” is defined as:

(17) “Motor vehicle” means:

(A) any motor driven or propelled vehicle required to be registered under the laws of this state;

(B) a trailer or semitrailer, other than manufactured housing, that has a gross vehicle weight that exceeds 4,000 pounds;

(C) a travel trailer;

(D) an off-highway vehicle, as defined by Section 551A.001; or

(E) a motorcycle or moped that is not required to be registered under the laws of this state.

Well, that’s not much help. Chapter 541 gives us more definitions:

(11) “Motor vehicle” means a self-propelled vehicle or a vehicle that is propelled by electric power from overhead trolley wires. The term does not include an electric bicycle or an electric personal assistive mobility device, as defined by Section 551.201.

(12) “Passenger car” means a motor vehicle, other than a motorcycle, used to transport persons and designed to accommodate 10 or fewer passengers, including the operator.

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Texas Kei Truck Advocates

Alright, let’s head to Section 551A.001, which defines an off-highway vehicle as:

(1-d) “Off-highway vehicle” means:

(A) an all-terrain vehicle or recreational off-highway vehicle;

(B) a sand rail; or

(C) a utility vehicle.

Well, a Kei truck doesn’t really fit any of those. Maybe it’s a utility vehicle? According to Texas, not really:

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(6) “Utility vehicle” means a motor vehicle that is not a golf cart, as defined by Section 551.401, or lawn mower and is:

(A) equipped with side-by-side seating for the use of the operator and a passenger;

(B) designed to propel itself with at least four tires in contact with the ground;

(C) designed by the manufacturer for off-highway use only; and

(D) designed by the manufacturer primarily for utility work and not for recreational purposes.

In all of my digging of the Texas Transportation Code, I found no mention of “mini truck” and I didn’t even find the AAMVA wording that any vehicle not meeting FMVSS should be removed from Texas roads. So, it would appear that Kei trucks are being denied registration based only on a department policy rather than an existing law. Still, the states do reserve the right to do that.

So, what are Texans doing? As I said earlier, some people are still reporting successes in getting license plates for Kei trucks. For some, David told me, this means Texans shouldn’t rock the boat and try to operate under the radar for as long as possible. This would mean doing nothing until Texas potentially starts canceling registrations like Maine and Georgia are doing.

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Texas Kei Truck Advocates

There have been different approaches to reversing imported car bans. Over in Maine, Rep. Shelley Rudnicki introduced a bill that would have amended the state’s definition of an off-road vehicle to not include vehicles legally imported into the country. That was over a year ago and as of now, the bill appears to be dead.

Individual owners in states banning imports have filed lawsuits or individual DMV appeals for their own vehicles, each with varying levels of success. However, it should be noted that individual DMV appeals, even if successful, will not change underlying laws or policies. Enthusiasts and dealers in Georgia have banded together to sue their state’s DMV for the right to register and drive their cars on Georgia’s roads.

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Texas Kei Truck Advocates

Enthusiasts in Texas have decided to take a different approach. Instead of waiting for the state to really hammer down on imports, the Texas Kei Truck Advocates have decided to try to work with the government to change its laws and policies. Texas Kei Truck Advocates have made some admirable progress thus far as they have gotten the Texas DMV to agree to review its policies on Kei trucks. The Texas Kei Truck Advocates have also reached out to lawmakers all over the state, including Governor Greg Abbott.

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I have also reached out to a lawmaker and will update if I get a statement from them.

David tells me the group of Texas Kei truck owners feels this is the better path forward instead of trying to sue after things go downhill. That said, he also realizes that the decision to be proactive is a controversial one. On one hand, the DMV review process can result in Kei trucks finally being fully legal to title and register in the state. On the other hand, the DMV review could reveal that some counties aren’t following the rules, and suddenly, Texas would become like Georgia practically overnight.

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Texas Kei Truck Advocates

Because of this, David told me, some Kei vehicle owners in other states have strongly disapproved of the approach taken by the Texas Kei Truck Advocates. Some feel that by being proactive, the Texas Kei Truck Advocates is just notifying the government that there are loopholes that need to be closed.

David has provided me with a number of documents, including correspondence with congressional contacts. One of those documents contains the arguments being presented to the Texas DMV. The document is five pages long, so click here to read the full argument. I’ll pull some portions:

At present, a notable issue concerning Texas Kei truck owners revolves around the inconsistent recognition of crucial federal exemptions by some Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) offices. Specifically, some TxDMV offices are not honoring the federal 25-year exemption from the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and the 21-year exemption from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions requirements. This non-recognition has resulted in the denial of title and registration to Texas Kei truck owners, creating a challenging and unfair situation for these vehicle enthusiasts and small business owners. Addressing this issue is pivotal to ensure that Kei truck owners are granted their federal rights, promoting a consistent and equitable approach to their titling and registration across the state of Texas.

The TxDMV plays a crucial role in governing the titling and registration of vehicles within the state. Within its purview is the classification and approval of various vehicle types for road use. Among these vehicles, Kei Trucks, also known as Japanese mini trucks, hold a unique position.

This argument seeks to address the need for a policy change within TxDMV concerning the titling and registration of Kei trucks when they reach 25 years or older. The rationale for this adjustment is rooted in the federal exemption provided under the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988, The Clean Air Act, as well as principles derived from the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. By revisiting and revising this policy, TxDMV has the opportunity to ensure that these well engineered and roadworthy vehicles, originally designed for on-road use, enjoy the same rights as other classic and antique vehicles on Texas roads, thus harmonizing state regulations with federal law.

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Texas Kei Truck Advocates

The argument then goes on to note that these vehicles are legal on the federal level:

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Under the 25-year exemption rule established by the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988, these Kei trucks, when they reach the age of 25 years or older, should be considered eligible for use on public roads in the United States. This exemption recognizes them as classic or antique vehicles, exempt from the stringent Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) designed for newer vehicles. Once these vehicles are over 20 years old, they are provided an exemption from EPA emissions requirements per the Clean Air Act.

The critical distinction here lies in their origin and purpose. Unlike off-road utility vehicles, like Tiger Truck, or certain Chinese models that are genuinely designed for off-road use only, Kei trucks come from reputable Japanese manufacturers with a history of producing vehicles intended for road use. These vehicles are not repurposed off-road machinery; they are road-ready from their inception.

Further down the document, the Texas Kei Truck Advocates point out why banning these vehicles under the guise of safety doesn’t make a ton of sense. The advocates point out how Texans can register motorcycles, mopeds, dune buggies, and vintage vehicles for on-road use, but many of these vehicles aren’t any safer than a Kei truck. To the Texas Kei Truck Advocates, as well as many impacted by Kei vehicle bans, it doesn’t make any sense that someone is allowed to drive an old Ford Model T or an air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle, but a kei truck is a step too far.

The document continues its arguments by pointing out that a 25-year-old Kei truck imported from Japan is not the same thing as a brand-new mini truck imported as an off-road vehicle. Those off-road mini trucks are governed to slow speeds while an old Japanese mini truck can reach and exceed speed limits and ride on street-legal tires.

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Texas Kei Truck Advocates

Of course, the banning of Kei vehicles also impacts businesses, from the importers and dealers bringing these vehicles into Texas and selling them to consumers to the small businesses using Kei trucks as delivery vehicles, food stands, rolling billboards, and more.

If you haven’t been following this headache, I’ll explain.

The State Of Car Imports

Back in 2021, Maine was the first state that kicked off this debacle. The state changed its laws to state that any vehicle that does not meet FMVSS is not legal to drive on its roads. This change was made infamous when the owners of Mitsubishi Delica vans began reporting that the state revoked their registrations. JDM fans will note that the Delica is in a class much larger than Kei, but Maine doesn’t care. Officially, the Delica didn’t meet FMVSS, so it wasn’t legal in Maine. On June 15, 2021, the state amended its 29-A MRSA 354 statute to define an off-road vehicle thusly:

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Pictures Mitsubishi Delica 1986
Mitsubishi

‘Off-road vehicle’ means a motor vehicle that, because of the vehicle’s design and, configuration, original manufacture or original intended use, does not meet the inspection standards of chapter 15, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s pollutant requirements or the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s crash testing standards and that is not a moped or motorcycle.

Since then, other states joined in, each imparting upon JDM vehicle owners varying levels of registration difficulties. New York, Georgia, Maine, and Rhode Island all started recalling the titles and registrations of JDM vehicles while Pennsylvania allowed some already registered vehicles to be grandfathered in. Pennsylvania also allows Kei car owners to register their vehicles as antiques, which at least allows the vehicles to be driven occasionally.

PennDOT

Wisconsin is another confusing one. Officially, the state has banned the registration of Kei-class vehicles since at least 2013. Meanwhile, imports in larger classes are allowed to be registered so long as they aren’t modified and you have another car as your primary vehicle. However, many have had luck getting their Kei vehicles registered as historic vehicles.

This has left many enthusiasts asking how can the states do this? If the federal government is okay with the importation of these vehicles, shouldn’t the states be okay with registering them? Logically, yes. However, as the state of Wisconsin points out, vehicle registration is not the job of the federal government, and the states can control what drives on their roads, emphasis mine:

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows for vehicles to be imported into the country once the vehicle has reached a certain age. However, NHTSA and EPA are not responsible for regulating the operation of motor vehicles on public roads in the U.S. or for titling or registering motor vehicles for such operation: that is the responsibility of the individual states.

The Organization Behind The Bans

Aamva Partner
AAMVA

 

As I’ve covered now many times in the past, all of this traces back to the Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). Here’s what I’ve reported before:

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In November 2021, I located the source of this madness, and it was the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). This is a non-governmental non-profit lobbying organization composed of motor vehicle and law enforcement administrators and executives from all 50 states. Canada, Mexico, the Virgin Islands, and Washington D.C. get representation in the AAMVA as well. Among other things, the organization seeks standardization of laws across the states regarding traffic safety, vehicle titling, and driver licensing. AAMVA does not have legislative power but it does urge all member states to follow its “best practices.”

Vehicles imported from Japan and China have been on AAMVA’s radar since the late 2000s. Back then, the organization noticed how tons of Kei trucks were flooding American shores and the states didn’t really know how to handle them. It should be noted that a lot of these trucks weren’t older vehicles imported under the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988, but newer trucks with speed limiters meant for farm or utility work.

In February 2010, representatives from several states and Canadian provinces met in Orlando, Florida to develop best practices for handling the influx of mini trucks. It was just one of many AAMVA meetings on the subject of vehicle imports.

Making matters worse was the fact that the AAMVA had ammunition courtesy of an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety opinion published in 2010. The IIHS crash-tested Kei trucks against vehicles such as the Ford Ranger and concluded that low-speed vehicles and mini trucks are unsafe and should be removed from the road.

The opinion noted that starting in 2007, there was a trend of states allowing mini trucks on regular roads. That IIHS opinion focused on mini trucks with a governed 25 mph top speed, not trucks older than 25 years old imported without a limiter.

A year later, the AAMVA handed out its own opinion to member jurisdictions. Best Practice Regarding Registration and Titling of Mini-Trucks makes it clear that the AAMVA sought to remove these vehicles from the road:

By allowing on-road operation of used mini-trucks, Canada and the U.S. are accepting another nation‘s cast-offs—vehicles that no longer meet the exporting country‘s vehicle safety or emissions standards. Increasing the supply of older model vehicles in North America undermines government and industry efforts to improve vehicle safety and reduce vehicle emissions, as these efforts are largely dependent on fleet turnover. This risk can be reduced by placing restrictions on the use of these non-conforming vehicles in Canadian and U.S. jurisdictions.

As evidenced by the law passed in Wisconsin, it would appear that some states followed AAMVA’s recommendation. Otherwise, the recommendations were largely ignored until 2021, when Maine’s BMV, with the help of the DMVs of Georgia, Colorado, and South Dakota published Regulation of Off-Road Vehicles: Best Practices.

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AAMVA
AAMVA

My previous article continues:

This document clamps down on imported vehicles in a way that doesn’t seem all that logical. You can read it for yourself, but the important parts are that the AAMVA’s definition of an off-road vehicle is broader than the NHTSA’s, and the organization specifically calls out Kei trucks that are 25 years and older.

Perhaps the most shocking part is that the AAMVA admits in the documentation that its recommendations may clash with existing laws. In that case, the organization recommends that a state just changes its laws until the recommendations are legal. That’s what Maine, Rhode Island, and the rest of these states have done.

If you want the full scoop on what’s going on, I recommend reading my explainer at the old lighting site.

If you take the AAMVA’s definition of an off-road vehicle literally, it should mean that any vehicle built before the passage of FMVSS should also be illegal to drive. That would mean no Ford Model Ts, no Chevy Corvette C1s, or perhaps half of the classic cars I find on Mercedes’ Marketplace Madness. Yet, the recommendation is currently being used only against imported vehicles, largely Kei vehicles. I also wrote about the history of the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988, which can be read by clicking here.

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Texas Kei Truck Advocates

As of now, it’s unclear where the Texas DMV will land on this issue. The Texas Kei Truck Advocates were supposed to hear something from the state by the end of February, but as of right now, they have nothing. Allegedly, there may be a decision coming soon, but it’s unclear when.

Hopefully, enthusiasts in Texas succeed. If they do, their success can be used as an example of how to beat imported car bans before a state gets to the point of revoking titles. This would also be far cheaper than a lawsuit that could stretch out for years. If Texas fails, enthusiasts may see it as an example of what not to do. So, for any American wanting to enjoy some old forbidden fruit, let’s hope the Texas Kei Truck Advocates secure a future for JDM enthusiasts in the state.

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EricTheViking
EricTheViking
23 days ago

Let’s see if the Kei trucks are any less safer than riding the motorcycles without safety helmets and clothing…

Scotticus
Scotticus
24 days ago

If it has anything to do with Texas at the state level, it’s bound to be a clown show. They literally pass laws to stop us (city governments) from being able to govern ourselves.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
23 days ago
Reply to  Scotticus

So, Austin wanted to allow the homeless people to camp out on the sidewalks in the city centre where Texas Capitol is located? Good of state government to prohibit Austin and other cities from making the foolish measures…

Perhaps, it’s good idea for the homeless people to camp out in your yard or live with you.

Scotticus
Scotticus
23 days ago
Reply to  EricTheViking

Literally every detail in your comment is factually incorrect. Congrats – you’re clearly part of the problem.

MikeInCO
MikeInCO
25 days ago

AAMVA…we’re the HOA of the DMV.

Sambar Supreme
Sambar Supreme
25 days ago

As a Sambar owner it pains me to see the continuous fight/removal of kei trucks from public roads. I’ve taken my truck across the country multiple times and it’s definitely been more comfortable and safer than some of my motorcycle adventures. classic/antique cars, any sort of two wheeled propulsion etc. are just as dangerous and arguably pollute more. Newer kei trucks do have improved crash safety, my truck has seatbelts and catalytic converter for emissions. In Michigan I’m safe for now but will be devastated if I have to sell my truck next time we move after making all these memories.

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
25 days ago

I find it odd that, of all states, the “freedom”-obsessed state of Texas, where they believe it is a God-given right for everyone to be able to carry any firearm anywhere, any time, is the one that is not allowing….small cars??

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
25 days ago
Reply to  Theotherotter

you should see how they handle things in peoples bedrooms

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
25 days ago
Reply to  TXJeepGuy

Don’t mind me, I am just here to confirm that you only have intercourse in the missionary position, with the lights off, and for the sole purpose of making more ‘Little Texans’.

Bison78
Bison78
25 days ago
Reply to  Theotherotter

Also, those politicians who talk about state’s rights: they are in favor of California having its own emissions regulations, right? Why should California even need approval from the Feds to set its own emissions limits and requirements?

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
25 days ago
Reply to  Bison78

because the federal government regulates the design of motor vehicles, whereas states regulate the operation. If every state had its own design regulations, the market would not be workable. CA was given this special dispensation in 1967, otherwise most everything is uniform.

Bison78
Bison78
24 days ago
Reply to  Theotherotter

You can’t separate design vs. operation like this on a class of vehicles. Individual vehicles, yes, but not entire classes. These Kei vehicles are being refused registration because of their design.

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
24 days ago
Reply to  Bison78

It has nothing to do with this particular class of vehicles. States have always been able to regulate the operation of any vehicle on their roads, principally through how they regulate registration.This (well, the constitution, really) is why license plates are issued by states (and tribes), not the federal government. Kei vehicles aside, that a vehicle has been legally imported into the US by one means or another has never per se meant that it can be registered legally anywhere.

David McChristian
David McChristian
22 days ago
Reply to  Theotherotter

Our ask is that they are treated like other special use vehicles like the Polaris Slingshot, dune buggies and classic cars that never met FMVSS. Why do these vehicles get exemptions but not Keis? The TxDMV justification on why these are not eligible for title and registration is that they don’t meet the federal safety and emissions requirements that they are exempt from. ????????‍♂️

Bison78
Bison78
20 days ago
Reply to  Theotherotter

Please explain why it took special permission from the Feds to allow California to ban cars that emit too much pollutants. Using your logic, California could have simply refused registration unless they met enhanced emissions regulations.

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
20 days ago
Reply to  Bison78

Sorry, but I’m really not interested in arguing. That states, and not the federal government, regulate the operation of motor vehicles in their jurisdictions is a fact, and what is mentioned in the article is one of the consequences that flow from it, regardless of whether you or I like the results.

David McChristian
David McChristian
22 days ago
Reply to  Bison78

What about dune buggies/assembled vehicles that are street legal in Texas? They are literally made by dudes in their garage. How are these exempt from FMVSS but not a small truck manufactured by reputable companies for on road use in Japan? What about the design of dune buggies is acceptable but not Keis?

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
21 days ago

I think you’re mistaking me for someone who supports the efforts of Texas, Maine, et al to disallow Kei vehicles. I’m not. I can see a certain logic behind it but don’t think it makes a lot of sense given other vehicles that are still allowed. Rather, I was responding to the broader point that Bison78 suggested re: how registration of vehicles is regulated vs. how vehicle design is regulated.

Jeremy Aber
Jeremy Aber
25 days ago
Reply to  Theotherotter

Well there’s your problem! Everything is supposed to be bigger in Texas and these kei cars are just too small!

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
25 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Aber

LOLOL why didn’t I think of that.

Evan M
Evan M
25 days ago

You have to wonder who hurt AAMVA and what they’re getting out of this? Did a kei truck kill their parents and now they’re out for vigilante justice? Are they dealers that somehow think people are importing kei trucks rather than buy… uhh… yeah I have no idea what “competes” with kei trucks. Also, banning trucks in Texas seems a bit of an odd move (and also would have been the most clickbait title ever)

Last edited 25 days ago by Evan M
Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
25 days ago
Reply to  Evan M

More likely certain companies like Ford, GM, Chrysler/FCA/Stellantis, Mercedes, BMW and others gave donations to the org and ‘advised’/ORDERED them what to lobby for and what to lobby against.

And those Kei trucks were on some of the legacy OEMs hit list.

Let’s not forget that Mercedes was instrumental in getting you guys the 25 year import ban rule… which Canada stupidly copied, but watered it down to 15 years.
https://www.dirtlegal.com/blog/the-truth-behind-the-25-year-import-rule-may-surprise-you

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
25 days ago
Reply to  Evan M

On one of these articles the author dug up the background of the AAMVA and found it was funded by ATV and UTV companies. This makes perfect sense, as Kei trucks can technically do all the same things off-road utility vehicles are designed for, yet they can also drive on public roads – something UTVs and ATVs can’t do legally – and for a lower price in some cases. There are no other road legal vehicles that can compete with Kei trucks, and that’s the point. Their competition isn’t road-legal.

So rather than redesign UTVs and ATVs to be road-legal, or change the laws to make them so, their manufacturers are trying to prevent you from owning a potential road-legal competitor. Good ‘ol anti-consumer crapitalism.

Spectre6000
Spectre6000
25 days ago

OK… So we’re banning kei trucks because they don’t meet safety and/or emissions laws? Big ol’ brodozer full of BS. Someone got their panties in a knot about something, and then convinced someone else to tie up theirs. Unless they want to completely ban and eliminate motorcycles, I don’t want to hear about it. They don’t have a leg to stand on otherwise.

No Kids, Just Bikes
No Kids, Just Bikes
25 days ago

Maybe Lone Star lawmakers don’t like the internal philosophical dialogue they must go through when they see a Kei truck. Wondering how such a tiny and efficient vehicle can have so much more utility than their quad-cab long-bed four wheel drive coal-rolling cowboy cadillac work truck has to be a tiring mental exercise.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
25 days ago

And where is the internal philosophical freedom dialogue? This is a state where freedom is expressed in drive through guns and liquor stores. Why can’t drivers have the freedom to drive tiny shitboxes if they so choose?

Turbotictac
Turbotictac
25 days ago

So, which group in Texas is lining some DMV managements pockets? My guess is UTV manufacturers that don’t want to lose any sales on their rather pricey, not-quite-a-golf-kart-not-quite-a-car. This is very similar to the situation that prevented these vehicles being imported for 25 years to begin with…

Spectre6000
Spectre6000
25 days ago
Reply to  Turbotictac

Follow the money.

Ecsta C3PO
Ecsta C3PO
25 days ago
Reply to  Spectre6000

Make a list of who profits from any government decision and you’ll usually find millions in campaign donations or other “contributions”.

For this, I’m guessing:

  • Dealerships who want you in a brand new 8000 lb bloatware every 3 years instead of economical used cars (and who’s ultimate dream is to make private sales illegal).
  • As Turbotictac said, off road vehicle sales/manufacturers
  • Auto manufacturers for the same reasons as above
  • As usual, big oil wants you to to keep buying 3 row SUVs for your daily 5 mile commute, not an 800cc box
  • DMV employees who are tired of calling the supervisor over to approve entering short VINs into the system (/s)
Tondeleo Jones
Tondeleo Jones
25 days ago

“No, you can’t drive your awesome little truck on our roads because … FREEDOM!”

Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
25 days ago

People need to be doing a better job of pressing their lawmakers on why bills get killed. Make them admit why they let the bill die in committee.

Mantis Toboggan, MD
Mantis Toboggan, MD
26 days ago

Public servants shouldn’t be allowed to form unions or lobbying groups.

Aardvark775
Aardvark775
26 days ago

They call it the “lone star state” because that’s its Yelp rating.

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
26 days ago

Texas stands against regulation. Except when that regulation hurts people! Then they’re all for it!

Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
25 days ago

“Regulations for the bedroom, not the boardroom.”

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
25 days ago
Reply to  Baron Usurper

Do unto others as unto OTHERS. Do unto thyself as unto thyself. – Popular Maxim

That’s how it goes, right?

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
25 days ago

Except when that regulation hurts people liberals

FIFY.

Mike B
Mike B
25 days ago

They don’t like “big government”, they LOVE it!

Space
Space
26 days ago

It might be a legal stretch but the 4th amandment to the constitution could be a way to sue in states where registrations were taken away.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”
Perhaps denying the use of a vehicle that was previously allowed and legal could constitute as a “seizure”.
It has worked for zoning where a jurisdiction has changed the zoning against a landowner’s will. The landowner sued and won potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.
Cars are a bit more iffy than land but it’s possible.

Hot Stuff
Hot Stuff
25 days ago
Reply to  Space

I was thinking this is a 14th amendment violation. Kei vehicles are being singled out by the states, violating the equal protection clause.

David McChristian
David McChristian
22 days ago
Reply to  Hot Stuff

We made that argument in our letter to the DMV. However, I don’t think the administrators at the DMV would actually care. That’s something we’d have to handle on court, if it ends up going that way.

Industrial_design_guy
Industrial_design_guy
26 days ago

If someone can legally ride a motorcycle on public roads, I don’t see any GOOD reason why kei trucks couldn’t, as long as they’ve passed a safety inspection

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
25 days ago

A safety inspection in states where that is required. It isn’t in Texas or about half of the states.

Spectre6000
Spectre6000
25 days ago

*The same safety inspection motorcycles are required to pass.

If motorcycles are allowed, there are zero grounds to disallow kei trucks.

ChefCJ
ChefCJ
26 days ago

Interesting. I live in Texas and see Kei cars around from time to time, all of which have plates. There’s a Honda Street I’ve been seeing for the last couple of years almost every time I go to the local Walmart.

Aardvark775
Aardvark775
26 days ago
Reply to  ChefCJ

I live in Texas too. I think the problem is they don’t use enough gas, don’t take up enough space, aren’t dangerous enough to cyclists and pedestrians, and don’t pollute nearly enough. They are just fundamentally un-Texan. I haven’t seen a single Kei truck with a let’s go Brandon sticker or a gun rack.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
25 days ago
Reply to  Aardvark775

I could solve that problem. I’m very willing to make a kei truck more inefficient, large, dangerous, polluting, supportive of Brandon, and capable of transporting firearms.

ChefCJ
ChefCJ
25 days ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

But have you checked the ride height on most of these kei trucks to see if you’ll be able to fit truck nuts? I feel like that’s a crucial piece of fitting in down here. They won’t fit on my VW, which gets me a lot of dissapointed glares on my morning commute.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
25 days ago
Reply to  ChefCJ

Dragging trucknutz I think would be seen as a good thing in Texas.

ChefCJ
ChefCJ
25 days ago
Reply to  Aardvark775

The lack of a 9 point turn to make it out of their driveway is also a mark against them

AlterId
AlterId
25 days ago
Reply to  Aardvark775

I’ve seen one or two with little derringer racks.

SonOfLP500
SonOfLP500
26 days ago

Besides the obvious logic chasm between allowing motorbikes and banning kei vehicles, vehicle type is just one piece of the overall picture.
When this subject and/or the subject of rising traffic fatalities in the US came up on The Autopian previously, I started doing some basic research. This is the chance I have been waiting for to post it.
I live in Japan, where kei vehicles of all types and ages drive on all roads – including expressways – in all weathers. When I first arrived here in the late 1980s, there were more than 10,000 traffic fatalities every year, which seemed like slaughter. By various means, that is now down to 2,610 fatalities in 2022. US traffic fatalities in 2022? 42,795.
Even allowing for the relative population sizes*, if you turn those numbers into fatalities per million population, you get 20.9 in Japan vs. 126.5 in the US.
OK, so people in the US drive a lot more than people in Japan, so how about fatalities per billion passenger km**? That still comes out as Japan: 3.39, US: 6.53 and can never be a direct comparison, because a larger proportion of those km in the US are on relatively safe expressways. (… and it is also an indirect advocacy for improving public transportation?)
How about a more direct comparison, of traffic fatalities per 100,000 population in major urban areas? Tokyo: 0.94 (2022); New York: 3.01 (2018).
I know I am preaching to the converted here but clearly kei cars are not the problem.
A major reason that fatalities dropped so fast in Japan is that the government and the police came down like a ton of bricks on DUI after some horrible incidents, including a whole family drowning after being rammed off a bridge by a drunk driver. For a start, focusing on DUI might be a better place to start than the weird obsession with one class of relatively (compared to motorbikes) safe vehicles.
*Population in 2022: Japan: 125,170,000; US: 338,289,857.
**Passenger km traveled (billions): Japan: 769.4; US: 6,558.3.

Last edited 26 days ago by SonOfLP500
Oldhusky
Oldhusky
26 days ago

It has always seemed to me that something doesn’t add up with the AAMVA’s stance on this. There is often some kind of profit motive/special interest behind these sorts of things. It just doesn’t make much sense to me that this group would take on this supposed safety problem when there are so many other more obvious, important, and larger in scale motoring safety issues out there. It remains somewhat of a mystery to me who benefits from this legislation, though. Used car dealers? Makers of other non-road legal vehicles like Polaris or whatever? The mixture of half-baked foolishness and weirdly selective policy focus that has so far been reported just doesn’t add up to me. I’m well aware that it is good mental hygiene not to attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity, but the whole thing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

I live in Maine and was talking about this with my wife just a couple days ago, and it occurred to me that one large problem is the small and relatively unorganized constituency for importing weird Japanese cars in relation to the political forces lining up against the practice. I would like to suggest that one way (perhaps the only way) to raise consciousness and put together a political block large enough to budge lawmakers is for motoring publications to be the locus of such organizing. Like a ‘save the manuals’ thing but aimed less at a sort of misty nostalgia and more explicitly at engagement with policymakers at the state level. If a big enough slice of automotive media could publicize the matter and direct people to some existing organization advocating for policy change on this matter, we might get some traction. Surely someone around here has some experience in political advocacy and/or lobbying and might get the ball rolling.

Vee
Vee
25 days ago
Reply to  Oldhusky

UTVs are the motivating reason. Also known as “side by sides.” Sales that otherwise would’ve gone to more expensive and worse for the purpose UTVs instead go to kei trucks. Polaris and John Deere have quite an extensive lobbying arm and manufacture in Texas and Alabama. Texas usually relies on working with Alabama to incite new manufacturing, and Alabama usually votes in line with Texas on a lot of things in return. A sale of a used Bongo or a Carry is seen in the eyes of ATV/UTV dealers as a sale stolen from a Razor, Pioneer, or Gator, despite the fact that nearly all UTVs are sold for active sport purposes and not work because they just absolutely suck as work vehicles. So with their lobbying they throw a few high end toys from their inventory at law makers and suddenly unofficial policy changes happen. It’s happening in my state right now, where in an effort to kill sales of kei vehicles they legalized UTVs to be driven on any road with a speed limit of 45MPH or below.

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
25 days ago
Reply to  Vee

I was thinking along the same lines, I wonder how a map of Polaris/RZR/BRP/John Deere factories/HQ’s would line up with the map of states restricting kei trucks. (I actually do wonder, I’m not saying I think it does, I think it’d be interesting to see IF it does)

Last edited 25 days ago by Ricardo Mercio
Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
25 days ago
Reply to  Vee

Gotta love all the free market advocates saying how consumers are ultimately in control of its direction. No, no we’re not. It’s the companies, lobbyists, and legislators who determine what we’re permitted to buy.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
25 days ago
Reply to  Vee

Exactly, if I had a large property and needed a utility vehicle I’d much rather buy something like a Honda Acty than spend twice as much on a UTV that isn’t even that good at work tasks. That would take a sale away from an American power equipment manufacturer, and they have lobbyists. Honda doesn’t give a rip about what happens to a 25 year old vehicle, so they have no reason to waste money on trying to make them more accessible to US buyers.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
25 days ago
Reply to  Vee

If that’s the case it seems that the solution is obvious: Polaris, JD and other US manufactures can just make Keis of their own with the same crash and emissions standards as their side by sides. Those Keis would be brand new, have a warranty and LHD too.

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